“Is that it?”
I imagine this is what the paralyzed man thought when Jesus said to him, “Your sins are forgiven you.” Or perhaps the friends who had lugged their paralyzed pal to Jesus. They wanted a Miracle. They wanted something to change dramatically, quickly.
“Is that it?” That was my own impious thought the day of my first communion. Such a big deal had been made out of it. Years of confirmation instruction. All that memorization. I expected to feel something, to experience something, to be changed in some way, that instant. It didn't happen. “Is that it?”
It wouldn't surprise me if you told me that you sometimes feel that way about the liturgy, too. It’s the same words, week after week. The music of the liturgy generally stays the same. But we've come here because we are like the paralytic man. We know that we have a problem. Many problems. But how can forgiveness of sins make any difference?
Other problems seem far more pressing. Work. Family. Health. Forgiveness of sins? Maybe that matters in some eternal, cosmic way - but how does it help me now?
Jesus is showing us that the man’s paralysis is a symptom of a deeper problem. His problem, and your problems, do not reflect God’s intention for the world.
To use the language of God's Word, “The creation was subjected to futility”; and, “The whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs.” How did this happen? Why is the creation subjected to futility, such that we have disasters great and small, and the stench of death reeking in our bodies even now?
Sin. Sin is not a matter of your psyche. It is not some guilt you need to get over. Sin is not a matter of private judgment, or an emotional problem. Sin is the root cause of your troubled marriage, your troubled body, our troubled environment. Not specifically this or that sin, but the sin of the world. Sin had its beginning and continues on in man departing from God's Word and going his own way, man seeking to dethrone God and crowning himself as king.
So when Jesus comes to the man in today's Gospel, He doesn't ignore the man's paralysis. He addresses its root cause. It’s not that the man has various needs that we can neatly categorize, like Mallow’s hierarchy of needs: bodily needs, emotional needs, intellectual needs, spiritual needs. It is all one. Sin and death hang together; so, forgiveness and life hang together. When Jesus forgives the paralyzed man his sin, He is already addressing his paralysis.
And from the forgiveness of sin comes healing. Jesus shows us this by the miracle which immediately follows. However, what we experience is drawn out. God's will is that we die to the sinful flesh, die to our passions gone wrong, die to our lusts, die to our pride. You might think you want your marriage improved, your job enhanced, your body healed. But all the difficulties you experience are simply symptoms of a deeper malady. Nothing good happens until we address the sin problem, and everything we experience in this life as a Christian should drive us more and more to the absolution, the forgiveness of sins.
And, from the forgiveness of sin comes the healing of you as a person, as a newborn child of God. If you are forgiven, you also will forgive. Forgiveness is a legal judgment on God's part—He dismisses the charges against you as a judge would set a criminal free—but forgiveness is also more than that. When you are baptized, you receive the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit. God’s Word tells us that the Christian is “led by the Spirit.” What does this mean? It means that forgiveness covers our sin so that God sees it no more; but also it means that God begins His work of healing in us. Led by the Spirit, we are drawn away from the deeds of the flesh. This is why the Word of God addresses us as we heard today: “Put off your old self.” Stop bickering with your spouse; stop grumbling and complaining about other people; stop assuming the worst about them; stop visiting those web sites--you know which ones--; “Let the thief no longer steal”; when you get angry, control it and do not sin; speak the truth and put away falsehood.
That's not what you do to earn forgiveness; you cannot earn it, it’s a gift. But it is what forgiven people begin to do, led by the Spirit. It’s never perfect in this life. We keep on running back to the forgiveness. We keep on running back to the same words: “I forgive you,” “Lord, have mercy,” “Our Father... forgive us,” “Take and eat,” “The Lord bless you,” “Depart in peace.”
“Is that it?” Yes. That’s everything. The words of our Lord Jesus to the paralytic are addressed to you” “Be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” Our whole life is lived in those words – and where it isn’t, we still need healing. So let those words be your whole life, until the day comes when the Lord will come to you whom He forgave, lying in an earthen bed, and say, “Arise from your bed, and go into the house I have prepared for you.” And so we shall always be with the Lord. +INJ+